What is operational technology?
Operational technology (OT) is the hardware and software used to manage and control physical plant devices, processes, and events. Its purpose is to keeps things on the factory floor running efficiently and safely.
OT architecture has been part and parcel of businesses involved in manufacturing, process industries, or similar for a long time. Traditionally, OT solutions functioned as isolated units within a restricted operational sphere. They did not have to interact with other enterprise-wide systems or networks. A new phase in the Industrial Revolution known as Industry 4.0 (I4.0) and the phenomenon of the Internet of Things (IoT) are quickly changing these legacy systems, however.
Cloud computing, machine learning, and data learning are making operational technology increasingly integrated and smarter. Commonly used OT devices such as remote terminal units (RTUs), human machine interfaces (HMIs), industrial control systems (ICS), supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, programmable logic controllers (PLCs), and Internet of things (IoT) solutions are benefitting from digital transformation. Operational technology is becoming more and more autonomous and adaptive through processes of self-learning with artificial intelligence. It independently monitors and controls mission-critical production facilities without the need for human intervention.
What is information technology?
Information technology (IT) is another domain of technology. In general, it applies to all things having to do with computers, and it is typically used at an enterprise level to conduct business operations.
The main objective of IT devices is data management. Not only do they collect, store, and secure data, but they also analyze and exchange information. This is done for various purposes, such as to aid decision-making, optimize security and performance, or facilitate communication between humans and machines.
Examples of IT hardware and software include PCs, mobile phones, routers, servers, and gateways, as well as operating systems, enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer resource management (CRM), and database management platforms.
IT and OT differences: How do you tell IT and OT apart?
There are many ways to differentiate between information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT).
Firstly, OT focuses on controlling the physical world, whereas IT is concerned with digital data and the cyber-world. Secondly, OT is generally associated with industrial settings and highly autonomous devices. IT, on the other hand, usually does not function independently and requires human interaction. It is also used in a wide range of environments by many different people in business organizations.
OT devices, however, are normally purpose-built and are commonly operated by a few highly trained specialists. They often require special software to run and little updating. IT devices must be updated on a regular basis and can run on conventional operating systems.
In recent times, the digital revolution and technological innovations such as artificial intelligence, Internet of Things (IoT) applications, and the cloud have led to a crossover of IT and OT and a blurring of traditional boundaries. This trend is known as IT/OT convergence.
Today, OT systems are increasingly making use of IT applications. Many OT platforms such as SCADA or PLCs now support IoT platforms and IP- or cloud-based communication protocols, such as Open Platform Communications United Architecture (OPC UA) and Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP). OT and IT data can thus be exchanged to glean insights and extract value. Heightened connectivity and interoperability between these systems is helping to boost asset management in the process industry.
What are the key enablers of IT/OT infrastructure?
IT/OT enablers are aids which facilitate the adoption and integration of information and operational technologies into industrial processes and infrastructure. They help spur progress and expedite digital transformation in process manufacturing. This encourages gains in productivity, reduces operating costs, and enhances business agility.
Example of Industry 4.0 technologies which are empowering IT/OT infrastructure and bringing about sustainable change include:
Sensors and smart devices: Smart devices are wired or wireless electronic instruments that are conscious of their surroundings. They are able to operate and interact (semi)autonomously with other connectable devices and networks. IoT sensors are instruments that detect quantifiable input from various environments and transform it into output information, such as an electric signal.
IT/OT platforms are built upon both smart devices and sensors. These sensing instruments and smart devices measure, analyze, monitor, and control activities in the field and convey IoT data onward to the enterprise level. As such, management can derive intelligence from data and gain a better understanding of operations. They are then able to make decisions which unlock value and propel continuous improvement.
Edge technology: In edge computing, a company’s network infrastructure is set up in a decentralized manner to process IoT data as near as possible to its source, i.e. on the periphery or “edge” of plant architecture. The Edge itself is the point at which old-world OT and modern-day IT intersect. Edge technology retrieves data from field sensors and devices (OT) and then sends it onward to the cloud or other IoT systems (IT). Data transmission is carried out in a secure manner by installing security mechanisms at the outer reaches of the company’s network.
Cloud computing: Cloud computing refers to remotely hosted services which are managed via the cloud (internet) and can be accessed ad hoc. Cloud-based IoT applications (IT) are increasingly being integrated into OT infrastructure, for example, for predictive maintenance, data storage, and the management of supply chains. Manufacturing enterprises are progressively opting for private or hybrid clouds over traditional proprietary data centers and in-house servers. The demand for colocation data center facilities (renting of third-party spaces to house privately owned servers and other hardware) is also on the rise.
By leveraging cloud computing solutions, companies can fuel smart manufacturing and quickly adapt their plant operations to new realities. Improved interconnectivity, scalability, and interoperability promote asset uptime, boost production quality, and generate revenue growth. Cloud-based manufacturing is the way of the future.
Other enablers of IT/OT include data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, and cybersecurity. For further information on how they foster IT and OT and their convergence, visit the following Yokogawa sites:
Website: Security Program
Whitepaper: Robotics for your next step in cost reduction and human safety
Blog article: Digital Transformation and Data Analytics in Process Industries
Read the related Wiki article IT/OT Convergence.
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